Five Questions with Cara Scarmack

Photo: From some higher glimmer in our landscape of flat, photo courtesy of Buran Theatre.

Editor’s Note: Cara Scarmack’s newest work, some higher glimmer in our landscape of flat, is at The Collapsible Hole through November 3rd. Tickets available here.

1: Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in a fine house on a hill in Lancaster, Ohio and spent almost as much time in Athens, Ohio where my extended family lives. Though we only had about an acre of land, we grew vegetables, raised chickens, and welcomed many stray animals into the family over the years. I stayed close to home for undergrad and went to Denison University, just 35 minutes down the road, in Granville, Ohio. Eager to venture out of the Midwest for a spell, I spent a semester of my junior year in NYC, working in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and taking classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute, of all places. After those months the city felt like home, so I heeded the call. I’ve been here since.

2: Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

Odin Teatret’s production of Andersen’s Dream. Never had I experienced such a visceral response to a work of art. It was a living nightmare. When I think back on it my skin still grows cold. Most notably, the production exploded my idea of what music can do in a play and how there aren’t really rules you need to abide by when you incorporate music. And! That music is the great secret.

3: What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I wish I were the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to playing musical instruments. I can play the guitar ok. Once upon a time I played the flute. I wish I could just pick up any instrument easily but I have to work long and hard at it. I was 26 before I had a smidge of confidence in myself as a singer.

4: I get the sense from reading both about the show and about your previous work that this will be a (perhaps) nonlinear experience – that which some may label of ‘the experimental’ oeuvre. What are the benefits from working outside the lines? Any drawbacks? 

Yes, it will be a nonlinear experience indeed! And! It won’t be driven by plot. Plot is maybe an after thought? It’s funny because when I watch television the shows seem to revolve around plot. But when I go see a play I expect something different.  

With experimental theater we are trying to get at something that is largely inexplicable. Not to name it but simply to bathe in the realm of what we can never fully comprehend. Is this a surprise/I don’t think so. Just the same, it never gets old. In this play we are exploring these ideas of isolation, motherhood, femininity, and also how to just get through your day unscathed. And if you do get scathed, how do you recover.

Working outside the lines means we get to laugh. A lot. So many times I think the decision is made by just—what’s going to be the more ridiculous thing? And, yes, it’s for the audience’s benefit of course. But first, it’s for ours. Because life is short. Buy blue shoes!

The drawback is, and this certainly isn’t a surprise, I don’t want to alienate my non-theater friends. I don’t want them to be afraid they aren’t going to get it. I want them to have a rollicking good time, even if they aren’t schooled in the entire context of what they’re witnessing.

5: You’ve done work with Target Margin, among other notable downtown bastion institutions. What have you learned from our mentors (the generation of experimental artists who came just before us) and what would you have them learn from you?

For a long time I was on the hunt for a process or maybe even a methodology to develop and execute in my own work. And to do that, I’ve employed inherited ways of working from my mentors. (Such as: Nonsense is a magical tool for mind warp; The play’s logic is slippery so you can’t get a hold of it; How do the elements work to create a steady current of Electricity buzzing loudly and neon…)  When the director Sarah Hughes and I met early on I asked her about her own process and she said something like, it depends on how much time I have, what the work is, and who is in the room. And I would add to that, what kind of day we’ve all had when we do meet. Nowadays I’m less interested in causing maybe a huge stir or making something achingly beautiful on the whole. Now it’s more like: take a sizable hunk out of the corner somewhere and maddeningly chew. I strive to prioritize remaining true to my impulses and questions above all else. I’ll always be an admirer of the experimental trail blazers but I think now I’m interested in going deep into my own (developing) aesthetic, a kind of “down home surrealism” (Gary Heidt) that plays with language a good deal. What’s the stuff that’s going to pull you in, out of your comfort skin a bit, and receive a (gentle) face slap? I think both Sarah and I are trying to coax that sensibility further.


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